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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Transcontinental Railroad

John Debo Galloway

New York, 1950

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p269  Chapter 11
Constructing the Union Pacific Railroad

Ground was broken for the Union Pacific on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River some four years before any other railroad reached Council Bluffs on the Iowa east shore. This made it necessary to depend on river transportation for carrying construction materials until the time when the Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad, later the Chicago and North Western Railroad, reached Council Bluffs, on Sunday, January 17, 1867, long after active construction had been under way on the Union Pacific Railroad.

Prior to 1867, the nearest railroad was the Hannibal and St. Joseph, which reached the Missouri at St. Joseph, Missouri, 175 miles down the winding Missouri River from Omaha. At best, the river was navigable by steamboats for only three or four months during the spring rise. Steamers threaded the stream for over 1,000 miles above St. Louis, and traffic into the northern Rocky Mountains was also mainly by river. In those  p270 times, navigation of the stream was most uncertain, due to sand bars and also to innumerable snags of sunken trees. During the winter the river was completely closed by floating or solid ice.

The only other means of obtaining the necessary supplies was to haul them by wagon over dirt roads from the end of the track of the Iowa railroads that were slowly making their way across that state toward Council Bluffs.

The only materials locally available were ties, stone for culverts and bridge piers, and material for making brick for buildings. The greatest item of weight was iron rail, with the necessary chairs, fish plates, spikes, and bolts. All rolling stock, including locomotives, freight and passenger cars, and similar equipment, with the exception of some cars that were built at the Omaha shops of the company, were brought up the river from St. Joseph. The company employed steamers for this purpose and also used barges that were towed up the river. Equipment for the shops came by the same route, although some was sent by rail and team across Iowa.

When the North Western Railroad reached Council Bluffs early in 1867, a spur track was built across the river bottoms to the channel of the Missouri River, from which point the Union Pacific operated steamers as a ferry across the river to a point on the Nebraska shore where the first depot and railroad shops were later located, somewhere near the foot of Dodge Street. At that place the river at low water varies in width from 750 feet to about 1,000 feet, and the rise during floods is about ten feet. During the winter of 1867‑1868, when river traffic was suspended, the Union Pacific built a temporary pile bridge across the stream, which cost about $10,000. It is probable that this bridge was renewed during the winter of 1868‑1869, as it furnished direct connection with the railroad systems of the East at a time when construction was most active. However, the ferries were kept in use at other times, and as the permanent bridge across the Missouri between Omaha and Council Bluffs  p271 was not opened for traffic until 1872, the ferries were generally used for transfer across the river.

The uncertainties of river traffic compelled the company to buy and transport to the yards at Omaha a large amount of material that was stored, pending the demand that was sure to come as the track pushed westward. The storage yards were located on the flat lands below the bluffs where the shops were built, but in some cases material was placed along the track leading out of Omaha.


The iron rails for the road were of American make, in accordance with the law creating the road, and were manufactured chiefly at Johnstown, Scranton, Danville, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. For the first section of the road, 440 miles in length, the rails weighed fifty pounds per yard and were supported and connected by a wrought-iron chair, an inferior method of construction, deficient in strength and liable to work loose. For the remaining portion of the road, the rails, usually about twenty-eight feet in length, weighed fifty-six pounds per yard and were connected by fish plates, a device that is still used today. Fish-plates, one on each side of the rail, are bolted to rails through slotted holes that permit variations of rail lengths with changes of temperature. The rail joint is today supported by two ties instead of by one, where the old type chair was used. Wrought-iron rails did not last a great length of time, and they had to be rerolled when they wore out. The weight of rolling stock in 1869 had about reached the limit that iron rails would support and it was only later, after steel rails had been introduced, that heavier rolling stock became possible. All original rail on the Union Pacific was of wrought iron.

The use of wooden crossties had become standard before the construction of the Pacific Railroad. The problem of securing crossties was one of the most difficult that the builders of the railroad had to solve. Approximatelyº 3,000,000 ties were required, the number varying from 2,300 to 2,640 per mile. The  p272 trouble was that timber on the bottoms of the Missouri and Platte rivers was mostly cottonwood, subject to easy decay and too soft to hold effectively the spikes that fastened the rails. Some oak and other hardwood timber was available along the bluffs bordering the rivers, while on the sides of the Platte Valley there was some cedar. However, it was not until the summit of the Black Hills was reached that good timber for ties and bridges became available from the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains south of the line. The defects of cottonwood were well known,º and as a partial remedy they were burnetized, a method of preservation originated by Burnet in England. At Omaha a treatment plant was erected consisting of a steel cylinder five feet in diameter and seventy-five feet long, into which the load of 250 ties was run. After the door was closed, the air was exhausted by a steam-driven pump, which process opened the pores of the wood, allowing the moisture to escape. The cylinder was then filled with a solution of chloride of zinc, which under pressure entered the pores of the wood. Two batches of ties, amounting to 500, were treated each day. The process was costly and only partially successful, since the wood's holding power was not materially increased.

In August, 1866, it was reported that ties were being floated down the Missouri River in the proportion of about three hardwood ties to ten of cottonwood. The hardwood ties were placed at the rail joints and in the center of the rail, cottonwood being employed elsewhere under the rail. Cedar ties were obtained in the canyons on the north and south sides of the river, and were hauled across the river over a pontoon bridge 400 feet in length. Beyond the Sherman Summit of the Black Hills, ties were cut in the pine, spruce, and hemlock forests of the Medicine Bow and Elk mountains, and were floated down the Laramie, Medicine Bow, and North Platte rivers northward to the railroad. Farther west there were no streams until Green River was reached, after which Henry's Fork, Black's Fork, Bear and Weber rivers were used for the same purpose. In this manner good  p273 ties were made available for the western half of the road, and soon after the railroad was opened cottonwood ties on the eastern section were replaced with hardwood.

All important parts of the Union Pacific's bridges were imported from the eastern states, the timber for the Dale Creek bridge coming mostly from Chicago. For fuel, cottonwood from Missouri and Platte River groves was used. Several geologists were employed to investigate possible locations of coal and had reported on the coal fields of the Wyoming Basin. These coal fields have since proved to be extensive and have supplied the railroad with fuel right up to the present time.

Stone for culverts and bridge piers, as well as for foundations for buildings, was found in limestone beds along the Missouri and also on Papillion Creek along the line of the railroad near Omaha. For several hundred miles beyond Omaha, the alluvial valley of the Platte afforded very little stone, although occasionally some limestone was found on the bluffs overlooking the valley. When the Black Hills were reached, the road passed out of the fluvial formation of the plains and at the Sherman Summit it reached the granite core of the mountains. This granite furnished good building stone as well as material for ballast. While stone was not abundant along the western half of the road, there was always enough for the railroad's purpose. The practice was followed of crossing small water courses with wooden trestles, which were later replaced by stone culverts or, in the case of larger streams, with truss bridges resting upon stone piers.


Except for some twenty miles at the summit of the Black Hills, and for a lesser distance in Echo and Weber canyons, there were no special construction difficulties. One third of the line up the Platte Valley was built on a flat plain of imperceptible rise to the mountains. The open country up the mountains and through the Wyoming Basin offered little obstruction to rapid work since streams were few and not very large. Between Omaha and Granite Canyon, a distance of 535 miles, there was  p274 no rock excavation at all. The twenty miles of granite work at the summit of the Black Hills was not especially difficult and with the exception of about three miles in Weber Canyon there was little heavy rock work. Fortunately, the sandstones and the sedimentary rocks of the Wyoming Basin had disintegrated long before into a debris that filled the flat valley through which the small streams wandered. In all the great length of line there were but four short tunnels, three of them being on the line through the Wasatch Mountains.

Many of the good construction features of the line were due to the great amount of surveying that had been done earlier. In general, the construction work was considerably less than eastern roads had encountered in crossing the Appalachian Mountains. What difficulties there were lay rather in the remoteness of the location, the great distances over which supplies had to be transported, the Civil War that engulfed the country during the formative years of the project, and, what was of major importance, the never-ending troubles with the Indians of the plains and mountains. To all of these had to be added the barrenness of the country, over which blizzards swept in winter and on which the sun burned and alkali dust drifted in summer.

It was in the vicinity of the Sherman Summit in the Black Hills that the only heavy work was encountered that required any great amount of blasting. Here the new explosive agent, nitroglycerine, was used in some large blasts. There was also some arduous work in Weber Canyon for a few miles, but in general the grading progressed rapidly. In the highest regions, where snow was abundant in winter, it was necessary to keep the grade line on fills in order to avoid cuts where the snow would drift, and this involved a considerable amount of earth work. There is some mention in reports of the time of a grading machine, but information is not available today regarding its construction nor the amount of work it did. The usual tools of that day consisted of wheelbarrows drawn by men, scrapers drawn by animals, and one-horse two-wheeled dump carts, the  p275 latter used where it was necessary to convey earth any distance.

There were four tunnels on the road, with a total length of 1,792 feet. The cross-section clearances for one timbered tunnel were nineteen feet in width at the springing line of the semi-circular arch and seventeen feet in width at the base. The clear height was twenty feet four inches above base of rail. In the hard-rock tunnels the clear width was sixteen feet, with the vertical clearance twenty feet four inches above base of rail. Modern rolling stock demands much greater clearances.

Tunnel 1 was on Mary's Creek in the Rattlesnake Hills, 630 miles from Omaha, and here a sharp turn of the stream required a short tunnel through the spur of the hills. The tunnel, which was 215 feet long, was located on a straight line and was excavated in brown sandstone that had to be timbered. The tunnel was projected to be longer, but it was found expedient to extend the open cut on one end. In order to make progress with the track laying while the tunnel work was being done in May and June, 1868, a temporary track on a sharp curve was built around a spur of the hills.

Tunnel 2 was at the head of Echo Canyon in Utah, 972 miles from Omaha. Its length was 772 feet, making it the longest tunnel on the line. Deep approach cuts were necessary before reaching a weak clay rock, which crumbled on exposure. When work was begun on this tunnel, the track was 300 miles to the east, where all available transportation was needed to haul tools, materials, and provisions over the gap. There was no possibility of obtaining cement nor was there any suitable stone; for this reason the tunnel was lined with timber. Work on the tunnel was started in July, 1868, but the difficult nature of the ground prevented rapid progress. The headings met in January, 1869, so that the tunnel was not finished until May, 1869, shortly after the tracks had met the Central Pacific at Promontory. In order to make progress, a temporary track eight miles in length was built around the tunnel.

Tunnels 3 and 4 were in Weber Canyon, three quarters of  p276 a mile apart, 1,005 miles from Omaha and about twenty-five miles from Ogden. Tunnel 3, which was 508 feet long, was on a three-and-one‑half-degree curve. It was excavated through a sharp spur of black limestone and dark blue quartzite. To facilitate progress, another temporary track was laid in a sharp curve around the spur. The work extended from September, 1868, to April 4, 1869. Tunnel 4, located on a four-degree curve, had a length of 297 feet. The work commenced in September, 1868, with the tunnel being finished in January, 1869. Nitroglycerine was used in all these tunnels, with the result that the work was greatly expedited. As the long race with the Central Pacific was then approaching its climax, it is easy to see how imperative it was to complete the tunnels without delay.

The impression should not be given that the grading and tunnel work on the Union Pacific was a minor item in the building of the road. On the contrary, while the nature of the soil and the location of the line made the grading easy, the length of the line made the item of grading one of the major works of its kind.

Bridges, Trestles, and Culverts

While the Union Pacific did not encounter any large rivers, its bridges were important in their relation to the progress of the work. Here again, the remote location of the road made it difficult to secure construction material for bridges. It was not until the main line had been built that the one large bridge of the road was erected over the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs.

When the road was constructed, bridges had been well developed in America. The favorite truss bridge on new roads where economy was an object was, as has been said, the Howe truss, a bridge built with main members of timber and main vertical members of iron rods. Such bridges were put up by contractors, the members being fabricated of selected timbers and shipped to the place of use. Timber trestles were also made in standard forms.

 p277  Culverts were constructed of stone masonry, but in the hurry to extend the track, small water courses were crossed by pile trestles, the intention being to substitute the stone structure later when stone could be brought to the location by trains. In the work near Omaha, when the speed of construction was moderate, culverts and drains were built of masonry, but from there on, they were mostly of timber trestles. This temporary work, where cottonwood was used, required replacement within a short time.

Near Omaha, the two bridges over the branches of Papillion Creek were built of 100‑foot Howe trusses on masonry piers and with trestle approaches. The next bridge, which was over the Elkhorn, was of a similar type, but with a span of 150 feet resting on masonry piers, followed by about 800 feet of wooden trestle. Shell Creek, Silver Creek, and Prairie Creek were crossed by pile trestles. The first important bridge was at Loup Fork of the Platte River, eighty-four miles from Omaha. This stream was one of the largest crossed and consequently was more exposed to destructive ice floods. The bridge was made up of ten 150‑foot Howe truss spans resting on masonry piers, the total length being 1,500 feet. Shortly afterward it was found necessary to add two more 100‑foot spans on the bottom lands. The Loup Fork bridge, under construction during a good part of 1866, was completed late that year. As the track had reached the bridge early in the year, a temporary pile trestle was constructed over the stream and early in May it was ready for track laying.

Wood River, a little east of Kearney, was crossed by a 100‑foot iron truss structure resting on masonry abutments.

By the time the North Platte was reached, 291 miles from Omaha, the track was so close behind the graders that it was decided to cross the river on a pile trestle bridge 2,300 feet long, built with cedar piles. The river was not subject to heavy ice floods and there was little or no driftwood.

Lodgepole Creek was crossed three times on pile trestles, and  p278 at Cheyenne on Crow Creek a 100‑foot Howe truss on masonry piers was built.

On the mountain section of the road, the bridge over Dale Creek was the most important. This small stream, a short distance west of the Sherman Summit, flowed in a gorge 130 feet deep and about 713 feet wide. A timber bridge of thirteen forty-foot spans and a fill was erected at this point. The foundations were of granite masonry, upon which rested double-framed trestles rising to the required height. The bents were spaced forty feet apart, with the track being placed on timber trusses supported on the trestle bents. As the road was then close to the pine regions, some mountain pine was used, but the major part of the bridge was made of timber sent west from Chicago. The cost was about $200,000. As there was always the possibility of fire, this bridge was later replaced by a steel trestle of thirteen forty-foot spans and a fill. At the time of the rebuilding of the road, the relocation of the line left Dale Creek bridge as a part of the abandoned line.

West of the Black Hills most of the bridges on the original line were constructed of timber trestles. In order to make progress, many of the streams west of the Sherman Summit were crossed by temporary pile trestles that were later replaced by permanent Howe truss spans resting on stone piers. There were two crossings of the Laramie River, of a total length of 300 feet; one over Rock Creek; one over Medicine Bow River, 200 feet long; one over the North Fork of the Platte, 600 feet long; twenty Bitter Creek crossings of a total length of 2,450 feet; the Green River crossing of 600 feet; one 150‑foot bridge over Ham's Fork; and four over Black's Fork of a total length of 1,800 feet, making for all these Howe truss bridges a total length of 6,200 feet.

The several crossings of Weber River were made with trestles, as was the crossing of Bear River west of Ogden. On the way up to Promontory there were several framed trestles, one being about 250 feet long and about eighty feet high. The use  p279 of the temporary structures on the rapid advance westward was fully justified by the desire to get the road into operation, since they served the purpose for which they were erected. Permanent stone and masonry work could be added later. The reports of government directors for the years that followed the opening of the line contain references to such work. For instance, in the report for 1874 it is stated that eight trestles of a total length of 3,096 feet had been supplied with stone culverts and a fill made in place of the trestle at a cost of $227,155. The procedure that was followed by the Union Pacific in its original construction was entirely proper for a railroad building into a new territory.

Track Laying

Track laying on the Union Pacific followed methods that had been developed on earlier roads, but it was better systematized, owing to the great length of the line. A keen contest was always going on between the grading and bridging forces on one hand, and the track-laying force on the other. The graders and bridgers were striving to keep ahead of the track, while the track gang hustled to keep up with the graders, partly out of a spirit of rivalry, but also because it was desirable to have end of track as far out ahead as possible so that supplies could be forwarded. Track laying was always a spectacular sight, and it is not surprising that visiting correspondents have left exciting accounts of what they saw.

The Union Pacific's first attempts at track laying in 1864 and 1865 did not produce much in the way of results, as only forty miles of track were set down by the end of 1865. By 1866, however, the project was in better shape and Durant awarded a contract to S. and D. T. Casement to lay the track. Casement Brothers made a written proposal to undertake the job at a given rate per mile, with conditions set forth, which was accepted by Durant in the following terms:

 p280  N. Y., Feb. 8, 1866.

"S. & D. T. Casement,
Painesville, Ohio.


Your proposition to the Union Pacific Railroad Company under date of Feb. 6, 1866, in relation to track-laying is received and has been considered.

The Company decides to regard your proposition and this acceptance as the agreement upon the subject.

The Company reserves the right to terminate this arrangement in case you do not perform the agreement on your part.

Yours truly,

Thomas C. Durant, V. P."

It will be noticed that Durant referred to the railroad company as making the contract, although the entire contract for building 247 miles was then in the hands of the Crédit Mobilier. Under this contract Casement Brothers laid the track on about 1,000 miles of line and also took subcontracts for a considerable amount of grading. A correspondent of the Chicago Tribune describes the track laying in the following words:

(It was) under the exclusive control of General Casement, who, with his two brothers, has the contract for laying down the rails. Before he undertook this work it had progressed very slowly on the old system, but he, bringing to bear on it all his ability for organization and the discipline inculcated by military life, quickly revolutionized affairs. He first built four large boarding cars, two sleeping in, one for eating in, and the fourth for cooking in. These he placed on the track and ran out to its extremity, enabling himself in this way to keep always on hand, close to their work, his force hands, numbering from two hundred to two hundred and fifty men. One of his brothers then undertook the supervision of the lading, on constructions, of the material brought upon boats from St. Joseph by Mr. Hoxie, Master of Transportation. In this lading of the construction  p281 trains, Gen. Casement's system was first made apparent. Each car was laden with a certain number of rails all of the same length, and the exact number of chairs and spikes required to lay them. These were sent out to the work, and the boarding cars having pushed as far as possible to the end of the track, the materials were thrown off behind them, then the boarding cars shoved back and the small cars used in laying the rails could come up to the piles of new material. Horse power being used to draw the small cars to and fro, the mere length of the boarding train was no obstacle. A small car having been loaded in the same manner and with the same precision as the large ones had been, was run forward to the end of the track by horse power. A couple of feet from the rails already down, checks were placed under the wheels, stopping the car at once. Before it was well stopped a dozen men grasped a rail and ran it behind the car, laid it down in its chairs, gauged it, and ere its clang in falling had ceased to reverberate, the car was running over it and another pair of rails run out. The process was continuing as rapidly as a man could walk. Behind the car followed a man dropping spikes, another setting the ties well under the ends of the rails, and thirty or forty others driving in the spikes and stamping the earth under the ties. The moment that one car was emptied of its iron, a number of men seized it and threw it off the track and into the ditch and the second followed on with its load. The work was all done with excessive rapidity, simply because each man had but a certain thing to do, was accustomed to doing it, and had not to wait on the action of anyone else.

General Dodge, who evidently thought well of Casement Brothers, has this to say regarding their work:

The entire track and a large part of the grading on the Union Pacific was done by Casement Brothers — General Casement and Dan Casement. General Casement had been a prominent brigade and division commander in the western army. Their force consisted of 100 teams and 1,000 men, living at the end of track in boarding cars and tents, and moved forward with it every few days. It was the best- p282 organized, best-equipped, the best-disciplined track force I have ever seen. I think every chief of the different units of the force had been an officer in the army, and entered on this work the moment they were mustered out. They could lay from one to three miles of track per day, as they had material, and one laid 8½ miles. Their rapidity in track laying, as far as I know, has never been excelled. I used it several times as a fighting force, and it took no longer to put into fighting line than it did to form it for its daily work. They not only had to lay and surface the track, but had to bring forward to the front from base all the material and supplies for the track and for all the workmen in advance of the track. Bases were organized for the delivery of material generally from 100 to 200 miles apart, according to the facilities for the operation. These bases were as follows: first, Fremont, second, Fort Kearney; third, North Platte; fourth, Julesburg; fifth, Sidney; sixth, Cheyenne; seventh, Laramie; eighth, Benton (the last crossing of the North Platte); ninth, Green River; tenth, Evanston; eleventh, Ogden; and finally, Promontory.

At these bases large towns were established, which moved forward with the bases, and many miles of sidings were put in for switching purposes, unloading tracks, etc. At these prominent points I have seen as many as a thousand teams waiting for their loads to haul forward to the front for the railway force, the Government, and for the limited population then living in the country. I have seen these terminal towns starting first with a few hundred people until at Cheyenne, at the base of the mountains, where we wintered in 1867‑68, there were 10,000 people. From that point they decreased until at Green River there were not over 1,000. After we crossed the first range of mountains we moved our bases so rapidly they could not afford to move with us.

The passing tracks, or sidings, ranged from 2,000 feet to 3,000 feet in length and in addition, spur tracks were built at stations as circumstances required. On the first 710 miles of line there were fifty-one stations, provided with station buildings and water tanks, the latter operated by windmills in many cases. The average distance between stations was fourteen miles. Coal  p283 houses were built at points where fuel was taken by the locomotives. At North Platte, Cheyenne, Laramie, and Rawlins, hotels were erected by the company.

One of the obstacles to be overcome was the snowdrifts that accumulated in cuts in the mountain section of the line. The practice of building snow fences to intercept the drifting snow was adopted and has been continued up to the present time. Up to 1873 there were about twenty-five miles of snow fences on the line, in addition to four miles of snow sheds built of timber. Also, about forty miles of track had been raised from one to six feet in order to prevent snow blockades. The snow sheds at that time were regarded as temporary structures. General Dodge describes the experience of the winter of 1869‑1870, when six trains were caught in a blizzard at Laramie that lasted several weeks. The trains were brought together by Hoxie, but the blizzards were so many and so fierce that it was impossible for men to work out in the open, and even when they cleared the cuts ahead they would fill up before they could get the trains through them."

The later efforts to control the snow were eventually so successful that the government directors reported in 1875:

"The protection of the road now against obstruction by snow has been carried to such a degree of perfection that impediments to the operation of the line from that cause will be no greater in the future than may be expected on any of the lines between Chicago and New York. The problem of the practicability of the road for winter operation may be considered as solved."

The agreement with the government had provided that the railroad company should build a telegraph line along the road, a necessity for service during construction and for operation of the railroad later. The telegraph line was usually extended beyond the end of track, and was finished to Great Salt Lake early in 1869. It was a standard two-wire line on wooden poles. Maintenance of the telegraph line was often made difficult by  p284 the vast herds of buffalo, which had a way of using the poles as scratching posts.​a

Some fences were built along the right of way in eastern Nebraska as a part of the original construction, but the major part of the line was not fenced, it then being unnecessary.

As in the case of many railroads before and since that time, the builders of the Union Pacific had to contend with washouts and floods, unexpected because of lack of knowledge about the country through which the line was built. In the severe winter of 1866‑1867 much damage was done to the railroad by a storm. Superintendent of Construction Samuel B. Reed describes the results in these terse paragraphs:

March 25, 1867. Omaha. I arrived here as I expected, without delay. Only one train came in after. The day of my arrival a severe storm commenced at North Platte blockading the road as the storm progressed eastward. Twenty-four hours after its commencement at North Platte, the storm had traversed the entire length of our road and progressed eastward, blocking the C. & N. W. R. R. as far east as Marshalltown. The Missouri River is still fast frozen. I have six locomotives on the east side of the river and would not hesitate to cross them on the ice if we needed their services on this side immediately.

April 18, 1867. I have just returned from the west where I have been trying to put our road in order. Fifty-thousand dollars will not repair the damage done by the flood. The ice broke first at Loup Fork. The bridge sustained the immense pressure and caused the ice to flow out on both sides cutting away the embankment about one mile on each side and depositing the ice in immense quantities along the line of the road for four miles.

At North Platte our bridge stands well, but little damage done. Between North Platte and Kearney the water flowed from the Platte in a stream about half a mile wide, cutting the road its entire width and sweeping with irresistible fury over the country for twenty miles, then recrossing the track near Lone Tree, taking off iron, ties, and embankment. At Prairie Creek the bridge was carried down stream. East of  p285 Shell Creek there are from four to six miles with nothing but ties and iron left. At Elkhorn River, about half a mile of track is gone. The above enumerates all the more serious breaks in the road. It will be ten or twelve days before I can get a train over the road.

Hereafter I shall have no faith in the saying of the oldest inhabitant.​b The water has risen in all streams emptying into the Platte beyond precedent.

The description of that storm damage will have a familiar sound to many a railroad man who has had to contend with similar difficulties. In the report of General Dodge of January 1868, he states that:

"The track has been raised, new bridges constructed, larger waterways built, and the old structures enlarged, as shown by the floods of April, the highest and most extensive ever known in the country, and it can now be safely said that a repetition of these floods will not materially injure the road or delay the running of trains."

A railroad has more to it than the track upon which the trains run, or the trains themselves. There must be full equipment of repair and manufacturing shops erected at proper intervals, roundhouses, station buildings, provision for water supply, and similar facilities. As it was required by the government, the Union Pacific was provided with such construction by its builders.

Owing to the location of the Union Pacific, it was necessary that shops be built first at Omaha. By the time the line was completed, there were two machine shops at Omaha, as well as a boiler shop, blacksmith shop, tin shop, stationary engine room, storehouse, oil house, sand house, fire engine house, foundry, roundhouse with twenty stalls, and a storehouse for waste. With the exception of the foundry, all of these buildings were made of brick on masonry foundations, with roofs covered with tin. Similar equipment for repairs for roundhouses was built at Grand Island, North Platte, Sidney, Cheyenne, Sherman, Laramie, Medicine Bow, Rawlins, Bitter Creek, Green  p286 River, Evanston, and Ogden. Seventy-five water stations had to be built about thirteen and one half miles apart. Seven were supplied by artesian wells, seven by gravity sources, twenty-eight by windmills, thirty-eight used steam pumps, while one was worked by hand.

Equally important with other elements that make up a complete railroad is the rolling stock. Beginning with a small number of locomotives and cars, the Union Pacific steadily added to its rolling stock until the road was completed. On July 20, 1865, Springer Harbaugh, government commissioner, reported that there was one locomotive at Omaha that was received July 8, 1865. There was another at St. Joseph awaiting transportation up the river and three more were in use on railroads, moving cars and material belonging to the Union Pacific. There were fifty platform cars at various locations transporting iron for the road. Some twenty cars had been purchased and were on their way west in sections, to be assembled later at Omaha. Two days after that one lone locomotive arrived at Omaha, track laying commenced.

When the road was completed to its connection with the Central Pacific, it had on hand 147 locomotives, 25 first-class coaches, 26 second-class coaches, 9 mail cars, 12 baggage cars, 9 express cars, 2 pay cars, 2 officers' cars, 1 private car named the Lincoln, 1,150 box cars, 1,500 flat cars, 48 dump cars, 50 hand cars, and 3 wrecking cars. There was also under construction at the Omaha shops a number of freight cars. The value of all this equipment was over $3,600,000. The locomotives ranged in weight from twenty-five to thirty-five tons, a standard size for the time.

While the wrought-iron rail used on the road was of standard size, the traffic during construction, especially on the eastern section, was so heavy that rail wear became one of the problems that definitely required solution. In the case of the Union Pacific, rerolling of worn rails was a costly process, owing to large freight bills for the long haul to eastern mills. A rerolling  p287 mill was therefore established at Laramie, where it functioned for a time. The introduction of steel rail soon after the road was completed of course made the mill unnecessary.

The Omaha Bridge

The bridge across the Missouri River at Council Bluffs was the most difficult engineering problem that the builders of the Union Pacific had to solve. The river at that point is one of the widest in the country, and up to the time that the Omaha Bridge was completed the Missouri had been crossed by but two other bridges — the railroad and highway bridge at Kansas City and the highway bridge at Fort Leavenworth.

The original Omaha Bridge and its two successors have been located 634 miles above the point where the great Missouri joins the Mississippi River near St. Louis. The drainage area above the bridge is 323,000 square miles. The two following paragraphs quote the Corps of Engineers, Omaha District of the United States:

"Measurements of discharge at Omaha, Nebraska, were initiated in September, 1928, and have continued to date. During this period the average discharge has been 25,900 cubic feet per second and the peak discharge was 200,000 cubic feet per second and occurred during the 1943 flood.

"Stage records without benefit of actual discharge measurements are available for Omaha from 1872 to date. These records and also stage records at other points on the Missouri River have served as a basis for estimating discharges by this office of the major floods occurring during that period. We estimate the maximum peak discharge during that period to be 370,000 cubic feet per second occurring during the flood of 1881. We also estimate that the average flow for the past 50 years to be approximately 35,500 cubic feet per second."

The river meanders in a flood plain, being between Omaha and Council Bluffs, four miles wide. While the channel is well defined at low stages of the river, the adjacent flood plain is sometimes covered with water, which rises about ten feet when  p288 in flood. The bed of the Missouri is the usual alluvial soil brought down from distant mountains, and at Omaha bed rock is found from seventy-five to eighty feet below the low water level of the river. The rock is overlaid by the sand, gravel, and silt of the river deposit. At the location opposite Omaha where the bridge was built, the river was about 750 feet in width at low water, but this width varied from time to time. The depth of the water reached as much as twenty-five feet.

As early as the latter half of 1866, investigations had been made with the object of locating a bridge. The surveys and tests were summarized by General Dodge in a report to President Ames dated December 3, 1866, and in a supplemental report of January 15, 1867. Using the data furnished by Dodge, Seymour also filed a report with President Ames, giving his discursive opinion on the subject and leaving the matter to be decided by the directors. J. L. Williams, government director, also made a report to President Ames near the end of 1867, in which he summarized the investigations to date.

The problem of where to build the bridge was complicated by the fact that the railroad had already been located and partially built out of Omaha and also by the question whether it should be a low-level bridge with a draw span or a high-level bridge under which steamboats could pass without being delayed. As a result of the investigations three main locations were considered. The first, the one most favored by Dodge on account of costs and physical considerations, was at Child's Mill, five miles downstream from the present bridge and eight miles from the railroad shops and depot at Omaha. The second spot, where Dodge had actually located a bridge in the earlier surveys that had been made for the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad years before, was referred to as the South Omaha location. The third was upstream about two miles at a point known at Telegraph Pole Crossing, where bed rock was exposed on the west side of the river.

The Child's Mill location was rejected, because, although it  p289 would cost less than the others, it would have left Omaha on a stub track eight miles long and would have made Council Bluffs the main terminus, which was just what the company did not want to happen. The Telegraph Pole location had a number of objectionable features for a high bridge, and a low bridge with a draw span required protection in order to keep the shifting river channel running under the draw span. The bluffs on the Omaha side of the South Omaha site were favorable for erecting a high bridge, with the added advantage that the site could also be reached by a track from the line already built. The final decision therefore was made for a high bridge at the South Omaha, or M. and M. crossing, as Dodge called it, and it was there that the bridge was built. That, in fact, is the location of the present bridge, the third to occupy the site.

The controversy that arose regarding the building of the bridge was concerned basically with the question of which railroad or railroads should stand the cost of the structure. As a number of rail lines were being projected westward across Iowa, it was natural that these roads should desire to connect with the Union Pacific as a source of traffic. The Union Pacific, in its turn, was actuated by the same motive. While the Union Pacific was under construction, the energies of the builders were concentrated on their great problem of building the railroad to the West, one major element of which was finances. For this reason the expensive building of a bridge was deferred and a ferry was used to cross the river. The North Western Railroad was the first to reach Council Bluffs, and others entered the town shortly afterward.

The Union Pacific directors, led by Durant, always maintained that the original order of President Lincoln, which had been lost, provided in fact that the road should start from Omaha. However, his second order clearly stated that the starting point of the road should be on "the western border of Iowa." There was much controversy over the subject, which was settled only after a bitterly contested lawsuit reached the  p290 Supreme Court. There it was decided that the Union Pacific should extend into Iowa. The decision was handed down after the bridge was built and after the railroad company had been charging tolls on passengers and freight. Thereafter the bridge was an integral part of the Union Pacific Railroad, which established a union depot at Council Bluffs, where the other roads came in from the East.

Work was commenced on the bridge in the spring of 1868, when a contract for $1,089,500 was awarded to the Boomer Bridge Company of Chicago. However, lack of funds prevented any material progress, and on July 26, 1869, the work was suspended. The project lay idle until April 10, 1870, when a new contract was let to the American Bridge Company of Chicago, which completed the job on March 14, 1872. The direct cost was $1,750,000.

The bridge was built with a clearance of sixty feet above medium low water, so that all boats navigating the river could pass under it. As originally constructed, the bridge began at the line of bluffs on the Omaha side with a pile trestle 729 feet long, followed by eleven spans of 250 feet each, center to center of piers, or a total length of 2,750 feet. A two-mile trestle on the eastern end led down a descending grade to the flat lands of Council Bluffs. At a later date, this trestle was filled with earth to make a permanent embankment. The bridge carried a single track and the roadway was not floored so as to accommodate wagon traffic, although this was contemplated in the charter. The spans were constructed of iron in a design known as the Post system, Post being the originator of the construction method. It was a triple intersection truss, in which the posts, inclined from the vertical, were in compression and the diagonals were in tension. What will seem odd to a modern engineer is that there was no intermediate sway bracing between the vertical posts throughout the spans and practically no bracing at the portals. The two trusses forming one span were almost independent of each other.

 p291  The piers of the bridge were made by sinking iron cylinders down to bedrock, which was anywhere from seventy-five to eighty feet below low water, and filling them with concrete. The details of the sub pier are to some extent uncertain. On top of the sub pier, iron cylinders were erected in pairs, braced between to form a pier upon which the spans rested. Considering the time at which the bridge was built, the use of an all-iron structure on a deep-water foundation was a remarkable achievement. It was opened for traffic March 22, 1872.

In common with most railroad bridges of that day, the Omaha Bridge became obsolete within a few years after its completion, owing to the great increase in train and engine loads made possible by the introduction of steel rails. The removal of the Omaha Bridge was primarily due to that cause, but it was also hurried to destruction by a tornado that tore two of the bridge spans from their piers on August 4, 1877. It might be inferred that the failure was due to the lack of proper wind bracing in the trusses. Repairs were made and traffic resumed on September 18, 1877. A large amount of bank revetment was also added to protect the fill at the eastern end of the crossing. In 1886 the original bridge, with the two repaired eastern spans, was removed and a new double-track steel bridge was erected on new masonry piers. The new bridge was shorter than the first one, having four channel spans of 250 feet each, with three approach spans at each end, making a total length of 1,750 feet, the fill on the eastern end having been extended.

The original bridge had served for nearly fifteen years. The second bridge, in its turn, became too light for the increased loads of the trains and was replaced by a still heavier bridge in 1916. The second bridge had a weight of 1,950 tons on the four channel spans. The third bridge had a weight of 3,580 tons, which indicates the increase in strength made necessary by rolling-stock changes over a period of thirty years. Although built after the railroad met the Central Pacific at Promontory, the bridge was, in every respect, a part of the original railroad  p292 across the continent and should be dealt with as such.

Indian Difficulties

When the construction of the Union Pacific was well under way during the latter part of the sixties, Indian trouble on the plains in the Rocky Mountains was not uncommon. The day of the frontier had long since passed, and pioneer emigration to the West — to Oregon, the Salt Lake region and California — had reached and passed its zenith. The overland stage route had been in existence for over a decade, and the constant stream of wagons, travelers, and express riders, together with the telegraph line, made clear to the Indians that their land was to be taken from them. Their resistance, at first spasmodic, had in the later days become more systematic.

As a result of hostile Indian activity in the West, the national government was called upon to protect both lines of travel and settlements, and a variable policy of dealing with the Indians was followed. It was necessary to set up army posts and forts along the central route. Fort Leavenworth was established in 1827, Fort Kearney on the Platte River in 1848, Fort Laramie at the junction of the North Platte and Laramie rivers in 1849, Fort Russell at Cheyenne in 1867, Fort Sanders near Laramie in 1868, Cantonment Loring near Fort Hall on the Snake River in 1849, and Fort or Camp Douglas near Salt Lake City in 1858. Farther along the line, in Nevada, Camp Halleck on the Humboldt River and Fort Churchill on the Carson River were military posts where garrisons were kept. During the many Indian campaigns expeditions went forth from these posts, as well as from others of a more temporary nature.

The stories of western travels abound with accounts of depredations by Indians. In 1864, along the Big Sandy valley for three hundred miles west every house and barn was burned, eighty settlers were murdered, and all the stock was stolen. This statement is taken from Beyond the Mississippi, by Albert D. Richardson, who, in his description of his western travels says:

"A hundred miles beyond [Virginia Dale Station], the savages  p293 had driven off the horses and mules from three stations. Two emigrants were found dead upon the road — one scalped, the other with throat cut from ear to ear, and thirteen arrows in his body."

On another page he states:

"While our mules were changed that evening, at a station fifteen miles beyond, we chatted ten minutes with guards and hostlers. Twelve hours afterward the Indians swept down, killing every occupant except two soldiers, who, wounded, made their escape."

Another description reads:

"The most serious of their outrages was the capture of an emigrant train, about thirty miles from Fort Kearney, on Plum Creek, killing and scalping eleven men, taking captive two women and burning the wagons. They burned a large number of cabins, stole the cattle and the settlers fled to Columbus in terror. They made a raid on Julesburg and, the garrison fleeing, one man was killed, and the station burned, and all the stock driven off. The loss fell heavily on Ben Holliday, and the Western Union Telegraph Company, whose line was destroyed, and kept down for several months."

Engineer S. B. Reed, writing from Denver in 1865, said:

"We arrived here this morning after a long tedious ride of seven days from Omaha, escorted nearly all the distance from Fort Kearney. With few exceptions, all the buildings along the road have been burned by the Indians and the whole country looks desolate and deserted. There is quite a large military force at various points along the line."

It is unnecessary to enter into the campaigns of the army against the Indians, except to mention that part played by General Dodge's force and its bearing upon the work of the railroad. In 1865, near the close of the Civil War, when Dodge was placed in command of the Department of the Missouri with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, the Indians were on the warpath, possibly because of the action of the army against tribes  p294 in Colorado, Indians who were supposed to be friendly to the whites. In the winter of 1864‑1865 Dodge led a campaign against the savages in which he was assisted by friendly Pawnees. In the summer of 1865, while Dodge was about to carry out a final movement against Indians in the Powder River country north of the Platte, who were attempting to destroy all telegraph stations along the Platte, the government at Washington stopped active operations.

The event that stirred the country to the seriousness of the situation as much as anything could was the slaughter of General Custer and all of his command, over 200 men, on the Little Big Horn in Montana, June 25, 1876. However, the wars in the Northwest were not concluded until the great chief, Sitting Bull, was killed in 1890 and the Indians massacred at the battle of Wounded Knee shortly afterward.

Such were the conditions when the railroad was built. Constant appeals were made by the Union Pacific for troops to protect the men on the road. Far in advance of the construction forces, possibly 500 miles ahead, the surveying crews were examining the country and it was obvious that they needed that protection badly. The murder by Indians of L. L. Hills, chief of party, in 1867, at a point some six miles east of the site of Cheyenne, and of Percy T. Brown, another chief of party, in July of the same year when surveying on Rock Creek west of Laramie, was related in the chapter dealing with the location of the road. Dodge thereupon called on General Sherman to provide at least 5,000 troops to cover the railroad forces, with the result that such help as Sherman could give, was furnished.

General Dodge, writing of the troubles with the Indians directly on the road, said:

When operating in a hostile Indian country they [the field parties] were regularly drilled, though after the Civil War this was unnecessary, as most of them had been in the army. Each party entering a country occupied by hostile Indians was generally furnished with a military escort of  p295 from ten men to a company under a competent officer. The duty of this escort was to protect the party when in camp. In the field the escort usually occupied prominent hills commanding the territory in which the work was to be done, so as to head off sudden attacks by the Indians. Notwithstanding this protection, the parties often attacked, their chief or some of their men killed or wounded, and their stock run off.

Our Indian troubles commenced in 1864 and lasted until the tracks joined at Promontory. We lost most of our men and stock while building from Fort Kearney to Bitter Creek. At that time every mile of road had to be surveyed, graded, tied, and bridged under military protection. The order to every surveying corps, grading, bridging, and tie outfit was never to run when attacked. All were required to be armed, and I do not know that the order was disobeyed in a single instance, nor did I ever hear that the Indians had driven a party permanently from its work. I remember one occasion when they swooped down on a grading outfit in sight of the temporary fort of the military, some five miles away, and right in sight of the end of track. The government commission to examine that section of the completed road had just arrived, and the commissioners witnessed the fight. The graders had their arms stacked on the cut. The Indians leaped from the ravines, and springing on the workmen before they could reach their arms, cut loose the stock and caused a panic. General Frank P. Blair, General Simpson, and Doctor White were the commissioners, and they showed their grit by running to my car for arms in aid in the fight. They did not fail to benefit from this experience for, on returning to the East, the commission dwelt earnestly on the necessity of our being protected.

From the beginning to the completion of the road our success depended in against measure on the cordial and active support of the army, especially its commander in chief, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, and the commander of the Military Division of the West, General Sherman. . . . We also had the cordial support of the district commanders of the country through which we operated — General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Augur, General Cook, General Gibbon, and General Stevenson, and their subordinates. General Grant had given full and positive instructions  p296 that every support should be given to me, and General Sherman, in the detailed instructions, practically left it to my own judgment as to what support should be given by the troops on the plains. They were also instructed to furnish my surveying parties with provisions from the posts whenever our provisions should give out, and the subordinate officers, following the example of their chiefs, responded to every demand made, no matter at what time of day or night, what time of year or in what weather, and took as much interest in the matter as we did. . . .

The operating department also had the Indians to contend with. An illustration of this came to me after our track had passed Plum Creek, 200 miles west of the Missouri River. The Indians had captured a freight train and were in possession of it and its crews. It so happened that I was coming from the front in my car, which was a traveling arsenal. At Plum Creek station word came of this capture and stopped us. On my train were perhaps 20 men, some a portion of the crew, some who had been discharged and sought passage to the rear. Nearly all were strangers to me. The excitement of the capture and the reports coming by telegram of the burning of the train brought all men to the platform, and when I called on them to fall in, to go forward and to retake the train, every man on the train went into line, and by his position, showed that he was a soldier. We ran down slowly until we came in sight of the train. I gave the order to deploy as skirmishers, and at the command they went forward as steadily and in as good order as we had seen the old soldiers climb the face of Kenesaw under fire.

The Indians also learned to wreck trains, and there were a number of instances when the train crew was either killed in the wreck or butchered afterward by the Indians.

Some appreciation of the magnitude of the Indian problem during the period up to 1869 may be found in the speech of Senator W. M. Stewart in the debate on a bill to aid the Northern Pacific and other railroads, February 19, 1869:

"And what is the cost of our Indian wars as compared with the cost of the Pacific railways, which will speedily end the  p297 Indian wars? A compilation from the official records of the government shows that these wars for the last thirty-seven years have cost the nation 20,000 lives and more than $750,000,000. In the years of the quartermaster's department there has been spent $28,374,228 for military service against the Indians infesting the country upon the proposed northern and southern roads to the Pacific, money spent in handling and hauling supplies. The Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs estimated recently that the present current expenses of our warfare with the Indians have been $1,000,000 a week — $144,000 a day."

Railroad Base Towns

The names of the base towns have been given in preceding pages. A number of these places became important cities after the road was completed; others disappeared when their purpose had been served. They marked the points where end of track was established for a short period, where supplies were accumulated before winter, preparatory to an advance in the coming spring, and points where the railroad was turned over to the operating department. Whenever a large number of men are employed in work of this kind, a swarm of men and women will be found who serve the needs of the men doing the hard work. Many of these persons perform a legitimate service in providing the men with clothing and other supplies that are needed. A majority, however, are parasites, such as saloonkeepers, gamblers, and prostitutes, who prey upon the men in various ways and generally succeed in taking most if not all of their money away from them.

The Union Pacific Company, or one of its auxiliary organizations owning the land, laid it off in town lots and streets, and sold the lots. It was a highly profitable procedure. However, in the rugged country of the West there was little stable government, either state or territorial, with the result that where there was an organized town government it was often in the hands of the disorderly element.

 p298  The desperadoes, along with the traders, engaged in cattle rustling, stage robbing, trading with and supplying liquor to the Indians, and creating trouble generally. The upshot was that vigilance committees, made up of respectable citizens, were formed to eliminate the obnoxious characters either by hanging them or by driving them out of town. San Francisco had two such committees, as did Virginia City in Nevada. At Virginia City, Montana, the committee at one time hung twenty-four leading desperadoes and banished many others. General Dodge states that he once received word that a crowd of gamblers had taken possession of Julesburg, and so he wired General Casement to clean up the place. When Dodge arrived at Julesburg, Casement showed him a small graveyard and remarked, "They all died in their boots, but brought peace."

A summary of the conditions that existed in the towns was once given by Superintendent of Construction Reed. Writing from Julesburg, he primly described a trip that he had made through the town. It is easy to see that Reed was impressed.

General Augur and staff returned here last Friday evening and nothing would do but they must see the town by the gas light. I sent for Dan Casement to pilot us. The first place we visited was a dance house, where a fresh importation of strumpets had been received. Such profanity, vulgarity and indecency as was heard and see there would disgust a more hardened person than I. The next place visited was a gambling hell where all games of chance were being played. Men excited with drink and play were recklessly staking their last dollar on the turn of a card or the throw of a dice.º Women were cajoling and coaxing the tipsy men to stake their money on various games; the pockets were shrewdly picked by the fallen women of the more sober of the crowd. We soon tired of this place and started forth for new dens of vice and crime and visited several similar to those already described. At last, about 10 P.M. we visited the theatre and were asked behind the curtain to see the  p299 girls. From here I left the party and retired to my tent fully satisfied with my first visit to such places.

Still, it must be conceded that the gambling houses and saloons perhaps served a kind of useful purpose, notwithstanding the trouble that they caused. The work of the railroad was done by young, vigorous men who were not content to labor for months in primitive surroundings without some sort of excitement. The big tents with their bars and gambling tables, where there was music and girls with whom the men could consort, were places where the construction worker could blow off steam after long hours of work in winter storms or under summer heat. The kind of men who did the work on the Union Pacific rarely were able to hold onto much money after months of hard toil. They usually spent their pay fast and then wandered off to some other job.

Construction Forces

Although the Union Pacific ground had been broken at Omaha on December 2, 1863, only eleven miles of grading were completed by the end of September, 1865, owing to the controversy over the route. By the end of 1865, forty miles had been graded, and track laying had begun on July 10 of that year. It was not until 1866, however, that real construction started. The Civil War had ended, the Hoxie contract had been signed, and finances generally were in better shape. What was of equal importance, Dodge had been made chief engineer and had taken charge of the location work with characteristic energy. By the end of 1866 305 miles of line had received the track and had been placed in operation, with grading in progress beyond. In 1867, 233 more miles of road were completed, which brought the end of track close to the top of the Black Hills at Sherman Summit. Work was then closed down for the winter and supplies were accumulated at Cheyenne.

In 1868, as soon as the weather would permit, construction was started again and the race with the Central Pacific was on.  p300 About 400 miles were completed that year, with construction being continued on through the winter so far as the builders were able. The remaining 146 miles to Promontory were completed in the first four months and ten days of 1869. Records as to the actual amount of road completed each year are somewhat indefinite because the grading was always far in advance of the track, which was usually considered the point of completion.

In the year 1868 and in four months of 1869, the grading of the line west of Promontory was practically completed as far as Monument Point and a small amount of work was actually done at Humboldt Wells, 220 miles beyond. A total of 600 miles of grading was thus accomplished in about thirteen months. In fact, construction was so rapid that the engineers in charge of surveys had difficulty in keeping ahead of the grading and bridge-building crews.

One of the objectives of the builders of both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific was to complete the road as soon as possible in order to obtain approval of the government commissioners and thereby secure acceptance by the President, together with the resulting subsidy bonds. This acceptance did not seem difficult to obtain, as the road was well built from the start. The first 40 miles was accepted January 24, 1866; and three and a half years later the final acceptance of 86 miles was made on July 15, 1869. The length of line accepted in 1866 was 105 miles; in 1867, 240 miles; in 1868, 275 miles; in 1869, 380 miles; and in the fiscal years 1869‑1870, 86 miles.

One source of controversy was the fixing of a point to mark the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, where the subsidy rate per mile changed from $16,000 to $48,000 per mile. The point was finally set at 525.78 miles from Omaha, or a short distance west of Cheyenne.

Operation of the Union Pacific was extended in 1867, first to North Platte in April; to Julesburg, 377 miles from Omaha, in June; to Hillsdale, 495 miles from Omaha, by November; and  p301 in the same month to Cheyenne, 516 miles from Omaha. In the next year the operating forces took charge as rapidly as the line was completed. It was the function of the operating department to forward supplies from Omaha to the end of the track, the job being in charge of Webster Snyder, with Hoxie as assistant. It was they who fought the Indians along the line and met such other difficulties as washouts and failure to receive supplies from the East at Omaha. Forwarding supplies was one of the most important functions of the railroad organization and much credit is due that part of the company for the work it performed.

Since the actual building of the Union Pacific was under the direction of Samuel B. Reed and James A. Evans, they had charge of awarding work to various subcontractors as well as supervising grading, bridge building, driving of tunnels, forwarding of supplies, cutting and delivering of ties — in fact, everything that pertained to the work. Both men had been on the surveys for the road and had joined the construction department when active work began.

While the building of the Union Pacific was nominally handled by several different organizations, as has been said they were all a part of the Crédit Mobilier. There apparently was no clear dividing line between contractors and the railroad company itself. Much work, however, was done by subcontractors. The man in charge of everything was, of course, Dr. Durant, who in his dual capacity of vice president and general manager of the railroad company and as one of the trustees who administered the Ames and Davis contracts, had supreme control. On the other hand, Chief Engineer Dodge, who was employed by the railroad company, also had a large amount of control and assumed more whenever it was necessary. It was clearly a case of wherever McGregor sits is the head of the table. Dodge was a man of such strong personality that he readily accepted responsibility for much of the road's progress. Clashes in authority took place between Durant and Dodge, and it is  p302 difficult to determine today just who was the force that drove the construction along. It is obvious that the controlling group was not harmonious, but at the same time there is no gainsaying the fact that they built the railroad.

A great deal of temporary construction was installed on the Union Pacific, notably in bridges and culverts. Poor ties were used in some cases and banks were not always up to standard. After an examination of the road, a special commission of the government rendered a favorable report on the railroad on October 30, 1869, but stated that deficiencies of various kinds between Omaha and Ogden remained to be corrected, the cost of which was estimated to be $1,586,100. The commission also reported that there was a surplus of rolling stock used in construction over that required for operation, amounting in value to $1,800,000. They said the line was "fully prepared to carry passengers and freight with safety and dispatch, comparing in this respect favorably with a majority of the first-class roads in the United States."

At the time of maximum effort, some 12,000 men were directly employed on the Union Pacific. Many more were employed in the iron mines as well as in the mills where track material was manufactured. Engine and car shops were building the rolling stock and, as we know, eastern railroads were transporting material and supplies by several routes toward Omaha. Steamboats were navigating the difficult Missouri River, also bringing supplies to the same point. Farms east of the Missouri and in the Platte Valley were raising food and forage for thousands of men and animals out on the prairies, mountains, and deserts along the line. Sawmills were busy cutting timber that were to be framed in the East and shipped to the work. In camps throughout the country lumbermen were getting out ties and rafting them down the rivers or hauling them by team to rail and river shipping points. The operating department was managing the ferries at Omaha and moving trains to the front with all kinds of track and bridge supplies.

 p303  Far out in advance of everyone, the surveyors were hard at work locating the line and keeping ahead of the construction forces that were moving up at top speed. The grading forces were strung out over the line, in some cases as much as 300 miles ahead of the tracks, while stone masons built culverts, piers, and abutments of bridges to receive the framed timbers from the East. Following close came the track-laying trains of General Casement, always driving ahead to put down the main track and the sidings. At intervals, men erected masonry and brick buildings for shops, water supply, and stations. In the eastern states, the promoters were doing their best to find the money for the work, while in Washington other officers of the company were investigating and allotting the subsidy allowed by law. So for three and a half years this teeming activity was held at maximum effort by those in charge: the Ames brothers and their associates in the East; Durant, Dodge, Reed, Evans, and Casement, in the West. Their work came to an end when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific were joined at Promontory on that historic day of May 10, 1869. After more than a decade of heart-breaking effort, the Pacific Railroad had been built.

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May 10, 1869. The historic scene at Promontory, Utah, on the day that the rails of the Central Pacific joined those of the Union Pacific to complete America's first transcontinental railroad.​c

Thayer's Notes:

a The problem was a serious one; a solution was found, acceptable to both people and buffaloes: it is reported by Fulton, Epic of the Overland, pp63‑64.

b This doesn't mean that old geezers are liars, but that a record flood over the span of a human life, even a long one, is statistically not good enough for engineering work. Modern practice is to take account of the "centennial flood" — a flood seen on average once in a century — or even floods occurring less often than that.

c An entire series of photographs was taken that day: see chapter 7, with links to others onsite.

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Page updated: 29 Nov 16